I was seven years old when I got in my first street fight in the only tenements that my parents — struggling poor Koreans they were — could afford. I had fought a much older single mother and lost. To my credit, she started it. At twelve years old, I decided I was an atheist. At fourteen, my parents divorced, as if to confirm that God couldn’t exist. At sixteen, I had my first drop of an ensuing ocean of alcohol. That same year, I went to what they called a “Gentleman’s Club” and stumbled upon a terrible addiction. By nineteen, I had lost my college scholarship and dropped out with a 0.9 GPA. By twenty-two, I had swallowed a bottle of pills over the girl I was living with, who had cheated on me twice. I spent time in what they call a “mental institution,” which was perhaps an improvement over the Gentleman’s Club.
I understand these problems do not compare to those of the world over: but the contrast was that I hardly felt anything. I was following the latest, loudest emotion, just the exit ramps to the bigger neon sign. And soon I was staring into the mouth of a senseless life with little purpose and no meaning — and it was all rather hilarious.
In my apprehension towards all-things-God, I would stay up until three in the morning watching the ceiling fan, knowing there was more to life than the empty vacuum of sweaty drunk faces and the smear of red-and-blue cop car lights. At some point in college I was certain that God was at least a real being, if only because I had looked into the face of nothingness and knew that no one could possibly sustain a life in that direction. But I didn’t want there to be a God, not with a capital G. It was horrifying to think so. It was crazy to think I couldn’t call my own shots and that I was somehow not the main character of my own existence.
I went to church anyway. Quite faithfully, too. I got caught up in the music, the messages, the social fervor, that moment after the sermon in the lobby when no one talks about the sermon. I started bringing my friends by the dozens because I was good at that sort of thing. And somewhere along the line, almost imperceptibly by degrees, I started hearing the messages. I really started listening. I heard about a God who loves us and became one of us and died for us and defeated death and invited us into the best relationship there is. Not a God who gives us everything we want, because that would be no better than Santa Claus with a pager. But a glorious, grand, dynamic, pulsating God, who was writing this incredible drama with His Son at the apex of history and letting us all in. Even letting me in. Almost by accident, to my growing disdain, I was feeling alive for the first time.